Thursday, December 6, 2012

Holiday Survival Series: Healthy Winter Weight Gain

For many people, winter seems to bring a certain degree of weight gain. The introduction of cold weather comfort foods, sugar laden warm drinks, holiday party overload combined with the tendency for decreased physical activity can lead to the packing on of a few extra pounds. However, it's not necessary to succumb to these "natural" tendencies. My preference is to retrain my mindset: Instead of focusing on the possible causes of unhealthy weight gain during the winter months, use the off-season and crummy weather as an excuse to hit up the gym more and put on some muscle mass!

Quick tips for building muscle in the gym:

1. Strive to lift 2-4 days per week.

2. Establish a rotation of muscle focuses for each workout

3. Use supersets to add a cardio component to your lifting routine, rev your metabolism, and get the most of your workout in a short time period. I recommend using a jump rope between sets if you really want to get your heart rate up!

4. Alternatively, focus on shorter, heavier sets with full rest for the best muscle gains. By that I mean reps below 10 per set with rest of 60 seconds or more.

Quick tips for building muscle in the kitchen:

1. Focus on protein intake, specifically after your workouts! Without adequate protein intake, your workout gains will go to waste. Standard recommendations are 1.0-1.2g protein per kg body weight. A little more won't necessarily hurt you, but anything above 1.5g/kg is excessive in my book.

 [ Body weight (lbs) / 2.2 ] x 1.0 - 1.2 = Your protein needs

2. As mentioned in #1, be sure to eat a high protein snack within 60 minutes of finishing your workout! Your muscles need fuel to recover and rebuild stronger, make sure you're getting it in! Time your workouts so your recovery meal corresponds with breakfast, lunch or dinner to taking in too many extra calories.

3. Carbs are important too! Each meal and snack should consist of a complex carbohydrate and lean protein source. Examples may include: Rice and beans, yogurt and granola, PB sandwich, protein shake with mixed frozen fruit.

4. Stress quality of foods in your diet, not quantity. Choose whole foods more often than not. Overall diet quality along with hard work in the weight room are two components of muscle gain.

5. Take good notes! Write down each workout that you do, and keep a food journal too.

Best protein sources: Again, it's definitely NOT necessary to eat animal products to gain muscle mass. Here's a breakdown of some of the best (whole foods) protein sources from both categories:
  • Plant based protein sources: beans, tofu, eggs, nuts, seeds, edamame, quinoa
  • Animal based protein sources: salmon or tuna, talapia or halibut, shrimp, boneless skinless chicken breasts, pork chops, lean cuts of red meat, turkey, and dairy products (cottage cheese and greek yogurt being highest).

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Simple Wellness Tips to Live By: 8-5-2-1-0 ©

With the plethora of diets and weight loss schemes available on the market and internet these days, it's a no brainer as to why we're all confused about how to take care of ourselves! But, taking steps towards a healthier lifestyle doesn't have to be overly complicated.

As a dietetic intern, I had the unique opportunity of promoting a wellness program called 9-5-2-1-0 © in Winchester, VA. The purpose of the initiative was to prevent and tackle the issue of childhood obesity. 8-5-2-1-0 © is the adult version of this same initiative and the numbers represent some simple health concepts to improve your overall well-being:

8 - Aim to get 8 hours of sleep per night

5 - Eat five servings of fruits and vegetables per day

2 - Limit screen time to 2 hours per day (TV, computer, etc)

1 - Aim to get 1 hour of physical activity per day

0 - Eliminate intake of sugar-sweetened beverages

These number are a great reminder that health and nutrition don't have to be as complicated as we sometimes make it out to be! Keeping these simple principles in mind each day can help you to move in the direction of living a healthier lifestyle, improving your overall well-being and quality of life and preventing long-term disease risk.

For more information on the 8-5-2-1-0 © program for adults (or 9-5-2-1-0 © for youth), check out the Northern Virginia Healthy Kids Coalition at:

Monday, December 3, 2012

Real Eats - Fuel Yourself for Fitness & Health

Now that I have a full-time job (yay!), my time for food prep during the week has flown out the window. It's pretty much non-existent. Therefore, I've become increasingly dependent on the weekend to plan and prep ahead of time. With many individuals that I counsel, lack of time to fix a healthy meal seems to be the number one excuse I hear for not eating better, or to justify fast food consumption. Consider meals made ahead of time to be your "fast food." Usually I'll freeze one meal and leave the rest in the fridge fresh and ready to go.

There are a number a great reasons to prep your weekly meals at once:

- Healthy "grab n' go" options conveniently available in the fridge

- More efficient if you are able to multi-task and work on multiple meals at once

- Only one mess to clean up (especially important if you're like me!)

From now on I'm going to try and share a few recipes each week, displaying some of the meals I prep for us to eat! Here's what is on the Chang menu this week:

Moving clockwise, from the top left:

Lentil Veggie Mac n' Cheese from The Lean Green Blog (frozen)

Simple Kale and Black Bean Burritos by Cookie+Kate

Eggplant & Bell Pepper Tofu Stir Fry from MyRecipes

Vegetarian Chili (one of my favorite recipes) by Emeril

Superfood Quinoa Salad (another favorite) from Iowa Girl Eats

Prepped, portioned and ready to grab!
While these meals will make up the bulk of our lunches and dinner for the week, I always accompany them with quick snacks for a well -rounded meal (things like fruit, salad, string cheese, yogurt, etc). Breakfast isn't usually an issue for us time-wise, but just in case we have some egg & veggie burritos in the freezer. 

Here it is in action for today's meals:
Today's Elf4Health challenge is to focus on fiber, so I have vegetarian chili for lunch, stir fry for dinner.
Not pictured are my apple, raw veggies, string cheese and dove chocolates :-P

A little planning and prep can go a long way! Have a great monday and happy eating!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Foodie Pen Pal Reveal : November

The Lean Green Bean

Foodie Pen Pals is a program where you are matched with a blogger or blog-readern at random from across the United States and get to send and receive food packages. Sort of like those goodie packages you would receive from mom in college. As the Foodie Pen Pal website states, boxes are to be filled with "fun foodie things, local food items or even homemade treats!... The box must also include something written. This can be anything from a note explaining what’s in the box, to a fun recipe…use your imagination!" At the end of the month, you blog about your fun goods for the other participants to see...

Now for my November reveal! And I gotta say...

My Foodie Penpal for November was REALLY awesome.

I mean check out these goods!

What I received:
Vegan stuffing
Raw crunch snack bar
Fruit strips & other raw snack bars
Assorted teas & chai
Apple cider drink
Cherry jam
Veggie chips
Notice how the apricot bar is empty? That's because I was hungry and ate it before I could take a picture of it :)

The veggie chips didn't last one night. Even the dog enjoyed a little treat :)
BTW - my hubby had been asking for veggie chips for over a month. Thank you foodie pen pal for making him VERY happy.

Included in my package was a bag of vegan stuffing. And, it was perfect for our first ever Thanksgiving as vegetarians!!

This was my first go around at being a Foodie Pen Pal, and it was an awesome experience.

Here's why:

I love food

I love mail
I love handwritten notes

I received lots of snacks to stash away in my new office for work day munchies

Food is awesome

The End.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Workout of the Day

Workout of the Day:

As the weather gets chillier, more and more people will be moving their workouts inside. I for one, am a huge advocate of strength training to build lean muscle mass. Need some workout inspiration to get you started? Check out this at home workout I wrote up for some of my athletes to do over Thanksgiving. Enjoy!

Warm-up: Do functional exercises or cardio for 5-10 minutes

60 seconds per exercise (unless otherwise noted) 
Repeat Entire Cycle 2-3 Times. Weights are optional.

Wall sit 
Mountain climbers
Wide leg squats
Side plank x both sides
Stationary lunges

Sit-up with oblique rotation
Fire hydrants –20 each leg
Glute kickbacks –20 each leg
Mountain climbers

Wall sit
Push ups – 10-15 reps
Mountain climbers

Narrow grip pushups

1 legged squat (put one foot back and on a chair) x both legs – 15-20 reps each
Reverse lunges – 15 -20 reps each
Side lunges -15-20 reps each
Plank w/ rotation side to side

Make sure to stretch upon completion of your workout!!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Holiday Survival Guide: Fighting Off Sugar Cravings

Statistics show that the average American eats 130lbs of sugar per year! I'll admit that my intake of sugar has definitely increased in the past week with the start of the holiday season. Between hot chocolate, pumpkin pie, chocolate candy and other delicious goodies, it all adds up quick. And the more I eat, the more I seem to want. Sound familiar? That's because research has shown that sugar has addictive properties and stimulates the same neuro-pathways as cocaine. It is also possible to build up a tolerance to sugar, causing the need to eat more and more for the same 'reward' response. 

Looking to nip your sugar cravings in the bud? See my post below for some tried and true tips for preventing yourself from falling into a sugary coma this holiday season.

Staying well hydrated will keep cravings at bay. Oftentimes, our body's signaling processes get confused and instead of drinking when we're thirsty, we grab a bite to eat. Keep a bottle of water with you at all times. Staying hydrated throughout the winter months will fight off dry skin, boost your mood and energy levels, and act as a natural deterrent to sugar cravings. **Side note: Be weary of liquid calories! 

Eat Adequate Calories
Basically, don't let your blood sugar drop so low that your sugar cravings become out of control. Eat at regular intervals (I recommend 3 meals and 2 snacks daily) and make sure you're eating adequate calories for your needs. Depriving yourself throughout the day will only lead to ravenous cravings in the evening hours. So if you have a nighttime function to attend, it's best eat nutritiously throughout the day beforehand. If you overeat at a party, choose to cut back a little bit each day for the next few days, rather than depriving yourself within a short time span.

Push the fruits & veggies
Aim for 5-9 servings per day! The more you crowd out junk food with whole foods in your diet, the less frequent and intense your cravings will be. Combine this tip with staying well-hydrated for a power-packed sugar-fighting punch.

Create yourself a menu
Related to the previous two points, knowing what you plan to eat ahead of time can prevent impulsive snacking, which often leads to poor nutritional choices. Take a few minutes at the beginning of each day to write our your meals and snacks and stick to it!

Focus on non-food rewards
Proud of yourself for a recent long run, or for receiving a promotion at work? Avoid using sugar as a reward. Instead, opt for activities that are relaxing or health promoting, such as a massage or long walk. Buy yourself an early christmas present. Either way, the less you can use food as a reward, the better.

Sugar substitutes aren't much better
Be weary before choosing artificial sugars because in reality, there's no quick fix to America's love affair with sugar. Not only are you introducing unnatural substances to your body, but because your body doesn't know how to metabolize these "sugars," recent research shows they may be associated with weight gain and other metabolic disorders. For more information check out this blog post by Dietitian Cassie.

Get plenty of sleep
A jam packed schedule during the holidays can lead to sleep deprivation, which definitely will increase your cravings for sugar. Prioritize what you have going on and maintain your normal sleep schedule to the best of your ability.

Be Realistic
Going "sugar-free" is an ambitious goal, and not realistic for most. Rather than depriving yourself of all sugar, which can lead to increased cravings, choose to practice moderation and keep your intake in check. Some people need to go "cold-turkey," and I say "to each their own." Do what works best for you!

Do you have any additional tips for fighting off your sugar cravings!? If so, please share!

Happy fueling!


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Dreams Do Come True!

Today my husband ran the NCR marathon near his hometown of Baltimore, MD. 
It was epically awesome... and here's why.

For one... a bunch of our friends were running. That's a great looking bunch!
Of that group, 4 people finished their first marathon and 5 set a new personal record.

Even better... my husband qualified for Boston!

 I forgot to mention that last weekend my dad ran the Philadelphia Marathon... and also qualified! Being the awesome father that he is, he drove up 5 hours just to watch the race (perhaps to see me as well). Together we drove around to the various aid stations to cheer on our friends. I was dubbed the "gu-queen" after bailing out 4 of them with some extra calories at the halfway mark. Dad enjoyed volunteering some by taking trash (empty cups) from racers.

Yup, that's me, my dad, and my husband... 3 weekends, 3 marathons, 3 boston qualifying performances!!

Richmond Marathon                                       Philadelphia Marathon                               NCR Trail Marathon
Running a marathon and going to Boston have been dreams of mine since I was a kid. Ever since I watched my dad first run the Boston Marathon in 1998 (I was 11 yrs old), I knew I wanted to someday return to run it with him. Now, I get to share the experience with the two people who helped me to get there! I have my dad to thank for my running roots and endless encouragement, and my husband to thank for pushing me to do more than I ever thought I would. It doesn't get much more special than that!

Someone made a comment today that we "made it look easy." Maybe so, but it's been a rough journey for each of us. It took us each 3 attempts to qualify (read about my first two attempts here and here). Running a marathon is never easy... covering the distance is a challenge in itself, not to mention all the things that could go wrong! I'm glad we stuck with it and our perseverance paid off. 

So... Boston '14 here we come!! 

What are your dreams? Whatever they are, I hope you stick with them!!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Holiday Survival Guide: Preventing Holiday Weight Gain
Yes, November is more than halfway over and the holidays are just around the corner! Ready or not, stores are stocking up on their Christmas decor and holiday tunes are playing throughout. Over the next month, I will be featuring a series of posts in the form of a Holiday Survival Guide. Today's post is filled with tips on getting through the holidays unscathed. By that I don't mean surviving the Black Friday shopping rush, I mean navigating the inevitable parties and holiday functions while keeping your waistline (and sanity) intact.

#1 - is to PLAN AHEAD! recently posted a pin on Pinterest that "healthy eating is 80% planning and 20% follow through." I think they are spot on. Planning ahead for the holidays will prepare you to make nutritionally sound choices. For example:
  • Plan some healthy side dishes to be served at Thanksgiving and Christmas
  • Schedule your workouts on the calendar so you don't miss them. Make a date with yourself (or a friend) and keep it! 
  • Politely ask hosts what types of foods will be at a party ahead of time
  • If attending a potluck, bring a healthy dish that you will enjoy in case few other good (healthy) options are available.
  • Know you can't deal with baked cookies sitting around the house? Wait until you need them to do the baking and avoid making extra.
#2 - Keep up with the exercise!
It's easy to let your normal workout regime fall to the wayside with holiday functions, shopping, family gatherings and travel. However, keeping active will keep the pounds off and give you a little more wiggle room when it comes to indulgences. Even better- make a date with a friend to keep you accountable. The holidays are about spending quality time with family and friends, so choose to do something active together!

#3 - Mind your portion sizes
Whether at a holiday party or sitting down for Christmas dinner, make it a point to only fill your plate once and try to model it off the MyPlate: Aim for 1/2 your plate to be fruits and vegetables, 1/4 to be a source of lean protein and 1/4 to grains.

#4 - "Pre-load" before holiday functions
Have a tendency to overeat at potluck luncheons or parties? Research has shown that drinking a glass of water before a meal, or even a salad or bowl of broth-based soup can help curb your appetite and prevent over-eating. I recommend a piece of fruit, string cheese, greek yogurt or light soup as a great snack to help you enter into such situations fueled vs. fasted, which will in turn help you to make healthier choices (similar to the fact that it's not good to go grocery shopping while hungry).

#5 - Be selective with your indulgences
Similar to #1, plan ahead. If you look forward to grandma's deep dish apple pie every Thanksgiving, choose to make this your major indulgence of the week. Relatives' tend to be food-pushers? If it's something you're truly not craving, politely state that you're not hungry or just say no.

#6 - Monitor yourself
Maintain an exercise and food journal over the winter months and weight yourself regularly. If not daily, once or twice a week should suffice. That way, there are no surprises when you step on the scale in January. Self-monitoring will allow your to make adjustments such as exercising more or indulging less and keep you on track to meet your goals.

#7 - Have a goal!
I personally think having an athletic goal that you are working towards in early 2013 is the best way to keep yourself on track. Don't wait until the new year to set all your goals and resolutions - do so now and start working towards it! Sign up for a spring marathon or hit the gym to build some muscle in the winter months. 

#8 - Start a new tradition
Gather the whole family to do a "turkey trot," "jingle bell" or new years' 5k. Go out and do some active volunteer work. Or swap out the post-feast football watching at Thanksgiving for some family flag football! Be creative!

#9 - Practice mindful eating
The holidays are a great time to be more aware of what you're putting in your mouth. Choose to eat while sitting at the table and take your time. Avoid the temptation of holding a conversation by the food table of a party and mindlessly grazing as you talk. Avoid grazing all day long by planning out meals and snacks.

#10 - Eliminate "all or nothing" thinking
SO MANY people will use the weeks leading up to the new year as an excuse to over-indulge with the thought of "I'll start my diet in January." Avoid falling into this trap! Remember that sustainable lifestyle change is a matter of treating you and your body with greater respect. Indulgences are inevitable, so don't beat yourself up if you accidentally overdo it. Put it behind you and vow to do better the next time.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Common Pre-Race Nutrition Mistakes

I realize my marathon my be over, but there's still plenty of endurance events left to round out there year. This weekend I have friends competing in the Star City 1/2 Marathon in Roanoke, VA and my dad will try to Boston qualify at the Philadelphia Marathon. Two weekends from now my husband and many friends will be running the NCR Trail Marathon in Maryland! This one's for you, my friends!

The week leading up to a racing can be pretty daunting. You're nervous, potentially-stressed trying to get everything done before leaving town or worried that you didn't train hard enough. Reality is, the best thing you to ensure your best race in the final days is to rest properly, hydrate, and ensure focus on your nutrition. The miles have already been put in the bank, now it's time to move forward, spend them  wisely and have fun!

Pre-race nutrition will have less of an affect the shorter the race (10k and below), but still should not be ignored. Eating a balanced combination of complex carbohydrates and lean protein at each meal should be sufficient, with emphasis being on diet quality rather than quantity of calories or carbohydrates. For longer races though, how you fuel your body in the days leading up to a race and morning of can greatly impact your performance. Here are some common mistakes and tips to avoid them:

1. Improper carbo-loading

Tapering is a tricky process. Cutting back on miles can leave some people feeling sluggish and as a result, many people cut back on calories to compensate for their lack on activity. Personally, I too used to fear pre-race weight gain from running less and eating more carbohydrate. Reality is, this is the time to top off your glycogen stores to assist your body in delaying race-day fatigue and dehydration.

Get your fuel from complex carbohydrates like these...
Not simple sugars like this.

How to approach it: The key to proper carbo-loading is to increase your carbohydrate intake without increasing your overall caloric intake. Focus on quality, complex carbohydrate sources like fruits, oats, wheat bread, sweet potatoes, rice, cereal and pasta. Make the transition slowly and remember, this is not an excuse to over-indulge on sweets!! According to Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook, you should aim for up to 4g of carbohydrate per day for proper pre-race carbo-loading. 

2. Not starting early enough 

Don't wait until the day before the race to start your carbo-load. Stuffing yourself with pasta the night before is not ideal and will likely lead to gastrointestinal distress race morning.

How to approach it: Proper carbo-loading takes place over the span of a week. Build a base by maintaining an adequate daily intake of carbohydrate (55-65% total calories from carbohydrate) to avoid glycogen depletion. 2-3 days before your race, increase your intake to 4g carbohydrate per pound body weight. For a 150lb man, that equates to 600g carbohydrate or 2,400 calories from carbohydrate per day. Ease into change, and drink plenty of water throughout. Some racers find that eating their biggest meal at breakfast or lunch the day before a race works better than at dinner the night before.

3. Inadequate pre-race breakfast and timing

Your pre-race breakfast should be well-rehearsed! Remember to not try anything new race morning by sticking to foods you know your body can tolerate over the long-haul. Training is the time to experiment, not the morning of your race. Pack a meal that travels well and save the expo samples for another day.

Oatmeal with PB, chia seeds and banana is my choice of pre-race breakfast for longer races.
Experiment during training and learn what works best for you!
How to approach it: Practice your pre-race breakfast before a majority of your longer training sessions. That way your body is well adapted to your choice of fuel selections and you can tweak things well before race-day. Aim to eat up to 50g of carbohydrate by the time you reach the starting line. Simple starches that are easy to digest are recommended and complex, fibrous carbohydrates should be avoided. Some suggestions include: bread with PB and banana, oatmeal with berries, energy bar of your choice (low in protein, fat and fiber), cereal or a liquid shake. Aim to consume these calories 1-3 hours before your race, depending on what works best for you.

4. Waiting too long to fuel during the race

When the adrenaline hits in the early stages of your race, it's easy to ignore nutrition because you're feeling great. I've been all too guilty of this in the past! However, it's important to keep the later stages of your race in mind throughout those early miles. The longer you wait to consume calories during a race, the harder it is for the body the catch up.

How to approach it: Spread out your calorie intake and start eating early. Don't skip the first few aid stations, even if you only can get in a sip of water. If possible, break up your food or drink into small portions that you can consume every 15-20 minutes. Have a well-rehearsed plan of what you will eat on race day and carry it with you. I have learned to not rely on the race's provision of food because often times it's not provided early enough or often enough (during my most recent marathon gels were first offered at mile 16). Your goal should be to consume 30-60g of carbohydrate per hour either through liquid nutrition (sports drinks), gels, or simple solid foods such as gels, bananas and oranges.

Adequately fueling for your goal race is essential in optimizing your fitness potential. After putting in months of hard effort, it's important to follow through with proper nutrition that will prevent the dreaded "bonk" and leave you feeling like a rock-star out on the course!

Me fueling early on during the bike portion of an
 international-distance triathlon; circa 2007.

Happy Fueling!!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Race Report: Richmond Marathon...And Qualifying for BOSTON!

If you read my previous post, Thoughts on Richmond, you know that I went into this race with no expectation of pushing myself for a stellar performance. And I maintained that attitude the rest of the week. After the race, my husband asked me when I knew it was going to be a great race. I honestly did not realize it until around the 18-20 mile mark.

Rewind to race morning: I was relieved to had made it to Richmond and get in a decent nights rest. My dad, sister and I stayed at the Crown Plaza downtown, nice and convenient to the race start and finish! Way back when, I convinced my sister to run the half-marathon and my dad the 8k so as to make this a family event. I'm glad I did!! My dad got us both into running when we were young (10 & 12 years old) and it's always been a special bond between us. 

At the starting line, chill (literally) and relaxed.
Race start:  I tracked down my friend Robbie, who was running this as his first marathon, and lined up. Except, with me being so short, I lost him in the crowd and spend the first two miles of the race trying to track him down! 

The first few miles chugged along. Honestly, they did not feel great. My lingering hip pain was giving me trouble and I was afraid it would only get worst. The pace felt decent, but not great like previous marathons. I was enjoying the crowd though. We reached mile 5 after what seemed like an eternity and I said out loud, "Whelp, only 21 more to go!" People laughed. Everyone around me seemed relaxed! We eventually made it to the first bridge at mile 8 and here I really loosened up. The view was incredible, we were running with a group of people who were having fun and I decided I was too. Though our goal pace was 8:30's through the first half, we were running closer to 8:10's on a consistent basis and feeling good.

Bridge crossing near mile 8. Thanks to Robbie for the phone pics!
Miles 10-13 were along the river and were a treat. The temperature was a little cooler and I just took in the scenery. Around me I could tell people were starting to get more serious. I was a growing anxious as we approached the half-way mark: Excited at the thought of being on pace for a 3:35, yet scared that I had made the mistake of once again going out too fast. We ran through mile 13.1 in 1:48. Mile 14 was exhilarating because of the incredible crowd lining the street and here we picked it up to one of our fastest miles, around 8:00. 

The crowd really pumped me up. My 13.1 time pumped me up. I was starting to feel great and the race was going well. I still did not expect anything amazing though... I've run enough of these now to respect the final miles and know anything could happen. I tried to hold steady and looked forward to mile 17, where I knew I would next see my husband. Robbie told me to go on after the aid station at mile 15, so I did. I was anxious approaching the bridge because people said it was one long hill. Such hills have killed me in previous races, but honestly, I didn't even feel this one! I was starting to pass a good amount of people. At the end of the bridge I passed my husband and gave him my empty fuel belt. He said a friend of ours was just ahead and I should try to catch him.

Mile 17 Bridge Crossing
The next few miles were a blur. I was running well, but fully aware that the hardest miles were still to come. I was also concerned with the warming temperature that I would soon start cramping. Miles 18-20 were run in fear... this is where my previous races have gone downhill (and very quickly). Just when I needed it most a friend of ours, David Horton, road up next to me on his bike and we talked for a minute or so. That was a nice break and very encouraging! 18, 19, 20... it actually felt like the miles were going by more quickly now.

Around mile 20 we turned a corner and so did my race. I looked at my watch a saw I was on pace to do something great. I also had a good cushion to still set a PR if I faded in the final miles. I decided to take my chances and push the pace, but it wasn't until mile 22 that I really turned the engines on. I had 4.2 miles to go and 35 minutes to get there if I wanted to BQ. Instead of focusing on the finish line, I was determined to get to mile 25. I was told the last mile was downhill and figured adrenaline would carry me the rest of the way. I continued to pass a good amount of people and grab water cups whenever possible. Somewhere in there I started to feel sick and cramp, but luckily this passed pretty quickly.

Approaching the finish line and feeling great!
I kept trying to do pace calculations in my head, but was much too tired to think that clearly. Instead, I decided to focus on my turnover and staying relaxed. I conquered one mile at a time: 4, 3, 2... 1 to go. The closer I got to the finish line, the more excited I grew. At mile 25, I had 11 minutes to finish if I wanted to Boston Qualify. At this point, I knew I had it in the bag. I high-fived a friend along the course and was smiling ear to ear. I turned the final corner of the race and sprinted down the hill. I heard my husband cheering and the crowd was amazing. It was a tunnel of yelling fans. When I saw the finish, I put my hands up in victory. I had finally conquered the marathon and it felt AMAZING. I had finally run a strong 2nd half and as a result set an 11 minute PR -- qualifying for the Boston Marathon was really just icing on the cake!

Looking back on my pre-race thoughts, I stated "My plan for Richmond is not to strive for a stellar performance. I have no intentions of qualifying for Boston, or even setting a PR... my main goal is to go out and have fun, run a conservative race, and stay strong through the final 6-8 miles." I truly meant those words. I stayed relax and had fun, I ran a conservative first half and my final 10k was the fastest of the entire race. Things certainly went a lot better than expected.

Part of me wants to think, "Do I deserve this race?" But I quickly remember that yes, I do. This race was the culmination of a year's worth of solid training (other than my 2 month break). I may not have put myself through a killer training cycle this fall, but the miles and workouts I put in earlier in the year certainly contributed to my success. This was my third "attempt" to qualify for Boston, and my persistence finally paid off. I feel like I conquered the marathon and as a result am floating on air!!

As always, I'd like to thank everyone that has ever supported and encouraged me. Most of all, I'd like to thank my husband for pushing me to do this and not letting me give up. [Now the pressure is on and it's HIS turn to qualify for Boston 2014].

Monday, November 5, 2012

Thoughts on Richmond

A lot has been on my mind lately regarding the Richmond Marathon. Perhaps because it's only 6 days away now?!! For one, I cannot believe this is my 4th marathon (+) distance for the year (Holiday Lake 50k, Rock n' Roll USA Marathon, Eastern Divide 50k, and now Richmond). For someone who used to shutter at the thought of running more than 10 miles, it's quite a cool feeling!

Training for Richmond has not exactly gone according to plan. I kicked off the training cycle with the Eastern Divide 50k. It was the middle of the summer and HOT. I had high ambitions of redeeming myself from my disappointment at Rock n' Roll in the spring, and was bound and determined that I would finally get the Boston qualification I've been striving for. But my life (and body) had other plans. I had trouble adapting to the summer heat, was traveling for work most weekends and my life was full of uncertainty concerning full-time jobs and where we would be living by the fall. When I was finally honest with myself, I realized I was burnt out. It became apparent that I was expecting too much and needed to take a break. In the past I have faced this same situation, except I relentlessly pushed forward and suffered major consequences. I was not willing to go down that road again.

Throughout August Jordan and I were essentially living on the road. Early September finally brought the stability I had been craving: We moved to Blacksburg and my husband took his first job as a physical therapist! Before I had realized it though, I had taken 6-8 weeks off from any structured running. Richmond had been the last thing on my mind, yet the time had come for me to decide whether or not I would run it, switch to the half marathon, or defer until 2013. I wanted to settle for the most comfortable option by switching to the half marathon, but my husband, being the motivating, affirming and crazy person that he is said, "I think if you start training for the marathon now you'll go into the race fresh and not overtrained." Wise words, but I didn't want to listen to him because such an idea was outside my comfort zone. In the past, I've lived in a world of black or white-- either I was well trained and would do the race, or I was not prepared and would not.

Long story short, I decided to start training towards the marathon but with the intention of building a base for a strong marathon performance come spring 2013. And this is still my intention. In the past 8 weeks, I  have covered long runs of 14, 16, 18, and 21 miles. Some runs have felt effortless and many have been a struggle. Regardless, I am grateful for how quickly my body has regained the fitness I worked so hard to attain this past spring. I am no where near the shape I was going into the Rock n' Roll Marathon, but my love for running and the willingness to push myself to new limits has returned.

As I said, Richmond is now 6 days away. Though I am not as prepared as I'd like to be, I am excited to race and blessed for the opportunity to do so. Running is a gift -- it brings me happiness each day, leaves me with a feeling of accomplishment, helps to relieve stress and is a source of camaraderie between so many people. My dad, who is 63 and running the Philadelphia Marathon in two weeks, is running the best that he has in years. Countless friends will be running Richmond as their first marathon. My husband will be running one of his favorite races, the Hellgate 100k, in early December. These things also make me happy. Finally, reading all the stories about the NYC Marathon cancellation and the people who either ran on their own or volunteered on Staten Island has reminded me that running and racing is not just about me, or winning, or hitting a specific time. It's the journey that matters most. It's about believing in yourself and others, community, health, setting a positive example, striving for something great and learning about yourself in the process.

Unlike my previous two marathons, my plan for Richmond is not to strive for a stellar performance. I have no intentions of qualifying for Boston, or even setting a PR. This sort of pressure has not faired too well in the past -- I get over-ambitious and go out to fast, bonk, then look back on my race with disappointment. I have time goals for Richmond- I would love to be in the 3:40-3:50 range, but my main goal is to go out and have fun, run a conservative race, and stay strong through the final 6-8 miles. I plan to look for as many familiar faces as I can find, offer up encouragement to others, and sit back and remember why I love running. Who knows... maybe I'll even enjoy a treat at one of party aid stations. I want to get the full experience of racing in America's Friendliest Marathon!

For everyone else racing in Richmond this weekend, see you out there and good luck! When the race gets tough, I hope you will dig deep and remember all the reasons why you love to run.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Race Report: Greasy-Gooney 10k

Looking back, the last race I have done this year was the Eastern Divide 50k in June! Yea, life's been a little hectic these past few months. Now that we're settling down in our new home, I am looking forward to adding races back into the schedule, including the Richmond Marathon in less than 2 weeks!

This past weekend Jordan and I decided to race an impromptu 10k near Front Royal, VA. The Greasy-Gooney 10k is unique in that it's 3 miles uphill, followed by 3 miles of downhill. Both fun and torturous in one great experience! We did this race last year and I remember hating the first 3 miles, but loving every second of the downhill that followed. This year was no different.

Greasy-Gooney 10k Elevation Profile
Race morning I remember being particularly grumpy. I was tight, stiff and hurting still from my 21 mile long run just 6 days earlier, and we had woken up at 5 am to make the 2 hour trip from Lexington, VA.  While Jordan was telling me that I should "try to win" for the females, I was approaching this race as a means of a good tempo workout and nothing more. After changing out of our pajamas (yes, we wore our pj's to the race site), we went for a longer warm-up of about 3 miles.

At the race start, we chatted with some of our Winchester friends that we had not seen in a while, many of which will also be running in Richmond! It helped to put me at ease. Finally, the gun went off and I took off towards the front. To my surprise, I felt particularly good on the first mile! It seemed to fly by, but after clocking a 7:04, I backed off knowing that the next two miles ahead were much more difficult. Mile two was a 7:45 and I could feel my muscles fatiguing. My three, the steepest mile of the course, was a struggle to keep moving. Last year I clocked a 9:45 during the third mile, this year I was three seconds slower in 9:48. A sure sign that I need to add more hill workouts into my training plan. Overall I made it to the top in 25:44, one minute faster than last year.

Now the fun part...downhill! I love downhills. In a few weeks I will be crewing Jordan for the Hellgate 100k and the last 3 miles of the course to the finish is all downhill. We fly through this portion and I love it! Anyways, I took off chasing the runners ahead of me. Mile 4 flew by (655), but miles 5 (6:39) and 6 (7:02) seemed to drag as my body grew more fatigued from the overall pace. By the 5.5 mile mark, I was more than ready to be done! I hung on for all it was worth and ended up clocking a 20:59 for my 2nd 5k! Yea!  20:59 is the fastest 5k of the year for me, so I was more than happy with my race after seeing that! My overall time of 46:44 was a full minute faster than my 2011 performance... Seeing that I have not been doing any speed related workouts, I'll take it!!

For awards, Jordan took 1st overall male and I took first place female 25-29. A good day for the Chang household!!

Revisiting the same races each year can be a great way to measure progress. While the 2012 racing season is quickly drawing to a close, I am looking forward to 2013 with hopes that I will continue to improve and become a stronger, faster runner.

The beautiful country scenary of Browntown makes this race a delight.
Photo courtesy of Karsten Brown

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Cryotherapy... Not Just for Elites!

This past Sunday was my final long run in training for the Richmond Marathon. Woohoo! It's taper time!

When I came home, after eating and stretching, I filled up the tub with cold water and added 20lbs worth of ice for my routine ice bath. I know it does not sound very fun at all, and I'm going to come go ahead and admit it, but I HATE cold water with a passion. Especially in the winter months, it takes some lengthy pep talks on my part to get myself into a tub of ice water (just ask my husband). Even so, I've been doing this weekly basis because it has been a huge help in keeping me injury free over the past year. With marathon #4 for 2012 coming up in 3 weeks, that's a big deal for me!

Second to nutrition and rest, ice baths (aka cryotherapy) are an effective way to recover from the damaging effects of a run. Why is it effective? This is because the cold water in an ice bath constricts blood vessels and reduces metabolic activity to reduce the swelling and tissue breakdown common with hard or lengthy bouts of exercise. Upon exiting the ice bath, blood flow to the legs is increased in a manner that helps to flush out toxins produced during the run and jump start the healing process.

The result? Less soreness, reduced recovery time and reduced risk of injury!

Here are a few guidelines to get you started:

  • An ice bath doesn't need to be below 40 degrees. Usually 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit is sufficient.
  • Aim to spent 8-15 minutes max in the water.
  • Wear a sweatshirt and drink something warm to prevent your upper body from getting too cold. Have something to keep your mind occupied rather than staring at the clock!
  • Use some sort of stick to circulate the water while you are sitting there. This keeps it refreshingly chill.
  • Buying weekly bags of ice can get expensive, so I recommend freezing a bunch of old water bottles to achieve your desired temperature. Also, a cold stream, lake or nearby river can be equally effective!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Do You Journal?

A few days ago I was running some errands and found myself wandering through Barnes and Noble. It's rare that I get out to go shopping so it was a nice treat to just spend some time browsing! I found myself in the journal/notebook section and stumbled across this beauty. Being a bike enthusiast, it was love at first sight! I took it home without hesitation and knew exactly what I would use it for: to start up a new food journal.

I will be the first to admit that my eating routine has been less than stellar lately. Since my spring marathon, we have moved (count it) 4 times! Amongst that I have been traveling most weekends for work and as a result, have developed the habit of eating out of convenience, not really monitoring portion sizes and eating when stressed/bored.

Food journaling is associated with a number of positive benefits. Even if you are not strictly tracking calories, it can help to:

Keep you accountable
The most important action one can take when trying to lose weight is to keep a food diary. 
According to The National Weight Control Registry, keeping a food journal is the one of the main strategies used by the majority of successful dieters. Other research studies have shown that the best predictor of weight loss throughout the first year was the number of food records kept per week. 

Recognize eating patterns
It's one of the best ways to increase awareness of and correct emotional eating habits.

Track your progress, and make adjustments over time
Trying to lose weight but the scales not budging? Refer to your food journal to identify underlying nutritional pitfalls. Whether you're eating too large of portion sizes or grazing more than you intend, a food journal is an effective way to correct negative habits.

Share information
Sharing a food journal with a dietitian or other qualified healthcare provider is a great way to receive the most effective counseling for future improvements!

Happy Journaling!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Joni and Friends Cooking Club

Sorry friends for my super long absence! To say life is crazy right now is an understatement: we moved at the end of July, followed by celebrating our 1 year anniversary, applying/interviewing for jobs, 10 straight days of camp/work and now we're gearing up for my husband's graduation this coming Friday. Needless to say I'm really hoping life settles down soon! While I have a moment to breath, I want to share with you my experience volunteering at camp last week!

Every year I attend a camp called Joni and Friends (JAF) Family Retreats in a sleepy little mountain town called Canadensis in the Poconos. JAF is a super special opportunity for individuals with or affected by disabilities to get away, do things they normally cannot do, find rest, relaxation and fellowship with Christians and other individuals affected by disabilities. As a short term missionary (STM), one can contribute to the camp through a variety of roles, and this year I had the awesome opportunity of leading a cooking club for the campers!

The promo collage I made
To be clear, this 45 minute class did not really involve cooking. It was more of a "let's make fun things with food" type class. It was my responsibility to come up with ideas for activities, buy the foods, set up and execute the club for 3 days at camp. This year's theme at camp was construction, or "We are His Workmanship," based on Ephesians 2:10, "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in."

The first day I based the activities on the sub-theme of God's creation. We made vegetable skeletons, fruit paradise scenes and lady bug crackers. While there were examples to model their creations after, some campers took each of the activities in their own direction. The lady bug crackers turned into an olive eating challenge (apparently no one had a taste for olives, who knew?!)

Day 2 was simply construction themed with each camper building a log cabin out of pretzel sticks, marshmallow fluff or hummus, graham crackers and random other food decorations. I would have loved to use peanut butter but we avoided it for allergen reasons. Note: if you do this at home, make sure you buy the long pretzel sticks!

Day 3 was a conglomerate of random activities with the main one being veggie vehicles. I am really impressed with what the campers came up with! Better yet, I was really impressed with how many campers were EATING from the fruits and vegetables as they were working. After they were done making their vehicles, they made paint brushes by dipping rice crispy treats into melted chocolate of different colors.

I'm super happy with how cooking club went. This is definitely a new experience for me and it was somewhat difficult to plan how much food to buy for each activity. It was also difficult to plan a variety of healthy vs. sweet activities. I knew the campers would be looking to eat some dessert like items (rice crispy treats, brownies, etc) but as an RD, it was important to me that the club included mostly healthy activities that encouraged them to try some new foods. I think I succeeded, and this club ended up being the most popular of all at camp! In the end we had between 10-18 campers each day.

While cooking club took up my mornings and evenings, my other job for the week was to serve the ladies (and some men) of the camp through manicures:

A random job for me to do but I loved it and so did others!

Last but not least, I leave you with our fun family photo, taken after the camp talent show:

L to R: My father/mother-in-law, me, Jordan, sister/brother-in-law, after the camp talent show.

To Joni and Friends: thanks for another amazing week!

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